The revelation of Borachio’s crime to Claudio and the rest marks another turning point in the play. Don John’s deception has led inexorably to Claudio’s rejection of Hero, darkening the play’s atmosphere of lighthearted comedy. Dogberry and the Watch’s accusation of Borachio and Conrad seems to open the way to understanding and resolution. Claudio’s reaction to the information mirrors what the wise friar predicts in Act IV, scene i: he begins to remember Hero’s good qualities. “Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear / In the rare semblance that I loved it first,” he says to himself (V.i.235–236). The punishment that Leonato extracts from him might seem light revenge for the death of a daughter, but, of course, we know—as he knows—that Hero isn’t really dead. The punishment obviously establishes the grounds for a happy ending. If all goes well, it seems, Claudio is being set up to marry Hero, in a sort of redemptive masquerade.
Act V, scene ii, which develops the growing relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, is one of the funniest and most touching courtship scenes in Shakespeare’s works. It gives the audience a chance to laugh at Benedick and Beatrice as they grapple with the apparent folly of their love for one another, and also to see that their relationship is developing into one that is both affectionate and mature. Moreover, somehow they manage to speak sweetly to each other without losing their biting wit. Benedick, in fact, laughs at himself when he laments his inability to write love poetry. “No,” Benedick concludes, “I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival terms” (V.ii.34–35). Benedick’s inability to write underlines the difference between the witty and improvisatory court rhetoric that he is so good at and the very stylized conventions of Renaissance love poetry.
Beatrice and Benedick interlace their conversation with news about developments in the main plot of the play, but, throughout, they tease one another with gentle affection—and, of course, with never-ending insults. Benedick sums up their situation by saying, “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably” (V.ii.61). This assessment seems to be true in several respects—they will never have peace, for both are too lively and independent. But both are also wise, and it looks as if their love will grow into a deep, mature relationship in which both will continue to sparkle in the other’s company. The two also express genuine fondness. To Beatrice’s assertion that she feels unwell psychologically, Benedick asks her to “serve God, love me, and mend” (V.ii.78). When she invites him to come with her to talk with Leonato, he answers, “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes. And moreover, I will go with thee to thy uncle’s” (V.ii.86–87). Here Benedick plays with a typical Renaissance sexual euphemism, the idea of dying referring to a sexual orgasm.